Published on Wed Sep 15 2021

Insertive vaginal sex has a profound impact on the penile immune correlates of HIV susceptibility

Mohammadi, A., Bagherichimeh, S., Choi, Y., Fazel, A., Tevlin, E., Huibner, S., Shao, E., Zuanazzi, D., Prodger, J., Good, S. V., Tharao, W., Kaul, R.

The penis is the primary site of HIV acquisition in heterosexual men. Elevated penile inflammatory cytokines increase sexual acquisition risk. Topically applied cytokines enhance foreskin HIV susceptibility in an explant model.

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Abstract

The penis is the primary site of HIV acquisition in heterosexual men. Elevated penile inflammatory cytokines increase sexual acquisition risk, and topically applied cytokines enhance foreskin HIV susceptibility in an explant model. However, the impact of penile-vaginal sex on these immune parameters is undefined. Heterosexual couples were recruited to the Sex, Couples and Science (SECS) Study, with the collection of penile swabs, semen, cervico-vaginal secretions, and blood after a period of abstinence, and repeated sampling up to 72 hours after either condomless (n=30) or condom-protected (n=8) penile-vaginal sex. Soluble immune parameters were quantified by multiplex immunoassay. Co-primary immune endpoints were penile levels of IL-8 and MIG, cytokines previously linked to penile HIV acquisition. One hour after sex there were dramatic increases in penile IL-8 and MIG levels, regardless of condom use, with a gradual return to baseline by 72 hours; similar patterns were observed for other chemoattractant chemokines. Penile cytokine changes were similar in circumcised and uncircumcised men, and repeated measures ANOVA and ANCOVA models demonstrated that the degree of change after condomless sex was explained by cytokine levels in their partners cervico-vaginal secretions. This may have important implications for the biology of penile HIV acquisition.